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Collaborative Begins Planning For Jacksonville Mental-Health Facility

Ryan Benk

On Thursday, mental health professionals, county officials and law enforcement officers started planning to create a centralized facility meant to keep people with mental illness out of jail.

The Jacksonville Criminal Justice and Behavioral Health Collaborative began its meeting by watching a New York Times documentary about Nneka Jones Tapia, the warden of the Cook County Jail in Chicago.

She also happens to be a psychologist.

The film touts a compassionate approach to mental health in the criminal justice system.

But the Duval County collaborative hopes a central receiving facility helps treat people with mental illness before they’re booked in jail.

Duval Circuit Judge Karen Cole said the state of Duval’s mental health services is unacceptable.

“JCCI came out with a report in 2014 about the state of mental health services in Jacksonville. It was a pretty dismal report,” Cole said.

She said in part, the report found that services were too fragmented to be effective.  And that’s where the idea for a central receiving facility began.

Cole and other stakeholders traveled to Miami, where they toured the site of a future receiving facility — one that took a decade to get approved.

She said she’d like to use the Miami facility as a model, with hundreds of beds and the ability to have patients stay for as long as 90 days.

But Miami had to win approval from the state Legislature, local government and its taxpayers to issue bonds and create a special taxing district to fund the construction and recurring costs of the facility.

Still, Cole said the cost is minimal compared to the possible savings.

“In Miami they saved a remarkable amount of money which I think led the citizenry being willing to fund general obligation bonds,” she said.

Because of the new facility, Miami was able to close a prison, saving $13 million a year.

Cole said the next step is to set up a meeting with Mayor Lenny Curry.

Ryan Benk is a former WJCT News reporter who joined the station in 2015 after working as a news researcher and reporter for NPR affiliate WFSU in Tallahassee.